Social Protest 101

This email is a limited compilation of helpful advice and links for everyone planning on attending the march and rally this Saturday. Some of the information may be useful for other events as well. I encourage everyone to read through this and also visit the links at the bottom for legal, medical, safety advice.

Preparing for Action

This rally is short and will be easy going, so intensive preparation is not required. Still, there are some basic steps that should be followed in preparation. It is vital to wear proper clothing, eat well and get lots of rest and water before you go to the rally. All of these are scarce once demonstrations heat up. Yes, this seems like common sense, but many activists often succumb to the stress that occurs without these simple steps.

Rest up the night before. Don't stay out too late. Save that energy for singing, chanting, and marching.

Bring an ample amount of water at least 32 ounces per person and sip it frequently, even on cold days. Dehydration is one of the most common and dangerous adversities encountered at demonstrations. High energy snacks are also good.

It's a good idea to have some money on you, but no more than you need for food, transportation and phone calls.

BTW, weather conditions look great at -- "Mostly sunny. High in the middle or upper 50s."  Dress appropriately, and keep in mind that in the coming months it will be critical to prepare for for cold, rain, snow, ice, etc. Warm clothes, ponchos, blankets, warm drinks, and snacks are very important. Hypothermia can set in at relatively warm temperatures if other conditions are right (or wrong).

Generally, clothing that fully covers your skin, a hat, hood, or head covering, and closed shoes are best to protect you from any elements, natural or manmade, that can come in the way of a demonstrator.

Staying Safe & Sensible in Action

It is often good to be prepared for potentially hazardous circumstances at public demonstrations that can upset the intent of an event. These can range from someone taking a fall during a march or having a seizure, to rude motorists throwing objects, to angry counterprotesters, or even involve police violence. While there is little reason to expect that any of these issues will be major obstacles to the success of this rally, it is prudent to hope for the best and prepare for worse.

That being said, below you will find some generally applicable suggestions to help you stay safe and effective in the streets.

Always have a safe space in mind. All demonstrators need to be aware of a safe place to get to if a situation grows out of hand. You define "safe" and "unsafe" for yourself. For some, safe is among the locked arms of fellow activists, right on the front lines; but there's no shame in a lower threshold, for any number of reasons. Safe spaces change depending on movement and barriers by other demonstrators and the police, etc. In some cases they include wide open spaces or public areas. Other times they may take the form of an alleyway or similar hiding spot. There's no hard and fast rule about finding a safe space, but the time to have one in mind is before a tense situation arises.
Similarly, you should always have an exit in mind. Assess how to leave a bad situation. Maybe it is best to be in a large group for protection. But if the police are herding you like cattle, then the large crowd is their focus and you may need to break up and leave in small groups.
Use the buddy system and move in a group. If at all possible, make sure to have a partner you can trust, to whom you will always stay close. That way, at least one person always knows your whereabouts and condition. Working in small groups of people, all of whom you know well and trust with your own safety, is another important factor. Even if you are not part of an organized affinity group with a plan of action, it is helpful to at least be with folks you can rely on. This is especially true for families with kids. Also, if your group gets split up, it can be helpful to designate a meeting spot. It is also helpful to have a phone number that kids can call if they get lost.
Remain aware of social dynamics and dangers. You need to know what is going on - not just in view, but around the corners and a few blocks away. Pay attention to the mood of the crowd and the police. Certain actions like property destruction and violence will likely be caused by or result in violent behavior on the part of police. Be aware of police movement and different groups of protesters entering or leaving an area. Try to monitor the vibes and focuses of friends and foes at all times.
To know what is going on out of view, it is useful for demonstrators to be part of a group that regularly sends out scouts to investigate what the police and other demonstrators are up to. Since the situation at a dynamic protest will change frequently and rapidly, scouts need to check around and report back often. It's a good idea to appoint a pair of group members as scouts, so they can operate together, and you'll know the job is covered at any given time, as well as who is doing it. Consider the use of cell phone, secure cell coms, and walkie- talkies. But expect they may be monitored or sometimes disrupted by the police.

If you didn't see it, it didn't happen. It's a common sight at demonstrations for someone to approach a group of activists shouting, "The riot cops are coming!" As often as not, of course, there are no police coming at all. Acting on bad information is disruptive at best, and often dangerous. All critical information needs to be verified. If the person conveying info can't claim to have witnessed something directly, or if he or she is a stranger, then that information is unreliable. Never pass along information that you haven't already confirmed. Likewise, it's a bad idea to convey your conclusions about something based on evidence you've observed or otherwise confirmed. Instead, inform people of the information you're basing your own conclusions on, and let them decide for themselves how to evaluate it.

Assume the riot cops may be coming. While acting on rumors and fear mongering can be disruptive and dangerous, it shouldn't be surprising when the "authorities" do decide to blockade, surround, penetrate or break up a demonstration. This happens frequently, and the key to not being caught off guard is to know we are still living in a police state.

Don't panic; help others stay calm. Sometimes at actions, the situation grows just plain frightening. But panic reduces critical judgment, adapting and coping abilities, and it can spread rapidly. Our best defense in a crisis is our collective cool - keeping each other centered & focused. If you can't stay focused and centered, then you need to quit the demo to chill. Similarly, if someone else can't be calmed down, they need to leave.

Be prepared to be photographed. If you don't want to be photographed by the police or media at an action, the only sure antidote is to not attend. There is simply no guarantee that you will not be later identified, almost no matter how you attempt to disguise yourself. Assume some photographers are working for the police. Take measures appropriate to your own level of comfort or concern.

Know your options, and what you and your comrades intend to do, in case of arrest. This document cannot cover the various paths you may choose in case you or someone in your group is detained or arrested during an action. See the links below for this advice.

In Case of Injury
Almost inevitably, people will get hurt at mass gatherings. Even when there is no violence to speak of, illnesses related to weather, hunger, dehydration and exhaustion are common occurrences.

NOTE: While the below information is still useful, the presence of grassroots action medics has not yet been confirmed. Keep this in mind.

The absolute most important action to take when there is a significant injury of any kind is to get a trained and equipped medic to the scene as soon as possible. The simplest and best way to do this is to call out, "MEDIC!" If none is within earshot, there's a good chance the call will be relayed through the crowd until a medic can be contacted. Otherwise, you should send someone to find a medic.

Street medics can always be identified by red cross or star of life/star of resistance insignia worn prominently on their persons and/or gear. You are encouraged to verify that activists so- designated are trained and competent. Some medics, such as affinity group medics, may not be wearing insignia. Official emergency medical services personnel, such as EMTs/paramedics, will usually not be available in the vicinity of "insecure areas," though for severe injuries or illnesses their attention is almost always preferred.

No injury or illness is too elementary or too serious to call for a medic - let him or her be the one to decide.

It is still the case, though, that treatment of chemical weapons contamination can cause harm if it is not carried out precisely, by a trained "street first aider". This hazard is compounded by the fact that there is a significant amount of misinformation concerning first aid which is at present floating around the Internet and other activist rumor mills. Some of that misinformation is downright dangerous.


These links provide more comprehensive information than is provided above. I especially urge everyone to check out at least one of the legal web sites for info on police encounters and your legal rights. This may never be necessary, but it is a good practical refresher on civics that can be used in many situations.

Of particular interest is this free, printable pocket card on police encounters and your rights, in Spanish and English.

Just Cause Law Collective
This is a very comprehensive site by a west coast mobile legal team that "provides support to activists at every stage of nonviolent political resistance." It includes info on legal rights and observing, solidarity tactics, and activism. I highly recommend it for anyone involved in a public demonstration.

The National Lawyers' Guild
Here you'll find the NLG's latest "Right to Know" pamphlet, with all sorts of information about your legal rights, in English and Spanish.

A newer site, but lots of great links and stuff. Most of the above advice was taken from this site and modified for our purposes.

Black Cross Collective
"First Aid for Radicals and Activists" This is a very informative site, including info on demo prep, first aid, and aftercare.

Palestine Red Crescent Society
Related, but not of immediate use.


Michael Pitula

Here is a set of guidelines often used by groups engaging in nonviolent actions.  John Bagley